Archive for the ‘Home Affairs’ Category

After the fat lady sings, what happens?

May 10, 2010

I note John Naughton’s rather cryptic comment on reading Jonathan Freedland’s column in today’s issue of The Guardian.

  Brown waits for Birnam Wood
Nice Guardian piece by Jonathan Freedland

As for personal ambition, the virus that brought down Macbeth, those looking kindly on Brown said he was cured of it. “I'm past caring,” he mused privately on Friday, when asked about his own position. They point to his statement accepting that Clegg talk to Cameron first, all statesmanlike and above the fray, as if he had made the emotional shift from combatant to referee.

Others see the weekend’s events rather differently. The less charitable version pictures Brown in the No 10 bunker, scheming to cling on. It cites the late-night calls to Clegg – although those who heard them insist they were calm and businesslike – imagining a fevered Brown stabbing jotting pads with his thick pen, totting up the assorted minor parties to see if he could somehow reach the magic number that spelled power.

That the PM saw Clegg again today, in a clandestine meeting at the Foreign Office, confirmed Brown was far from ready to surrender. Instead, this man of uncanny resilience was clearly planning one more resurrection.

Which version is true? Is Brown now the becalmed statesman, planning his exit, or the bloodied survivor, determined to fight on? The likelihood is that, when it comes to Brown – the most psychologically complex figure to inhabit Downing Street since Winston Churchill – the answer is both.

It ain’t over till the fat lady sings.

I have some misgivings about its being over even then. The more one thinks about it, the more one begins to realise that the Liberal Democrats have most lose out of any partnership. 

 One strongly suspects that the people who voted for them this time – I was not one of them in the end –  will feel, with mighty good reason,  that they have been cheated by any deal that Mr. Clegg might do.

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Gordon Brown’s change

September 24, 2008
Polly Toynbee , commenting in The Guardian, September 23 2008, on Gordon Brown’s speech to the Labour Party in Manchester  yesterday, claims that  gave it his “utmost and it was his best speech  – as it needed to be”. There are probably two sets of voters listening to him. One set can hardly believe its ears that Labour, after all this time, has begun to tealise that it’s been refused for over a decade to consider “active intervention”
His call for “a new settlement” in this changed era helps him draw a line under his own recklessness in the days when he boasted of his “light regulation” of the City. Best was his strong red line between laissez-faire Toryism and Labour’s active intervention in the current crash. Good for aficionados – but the party now holds its breath to see if voters are still listening to anything he says.

It’s not easy for people to believe that, after a decade of toadying up to big finance, and claiming that it was something we should be proud of, Mr Brown has had his road to Damascus moment. Is he now saying that almost everything he lived by, and would have us believe in, turns out to have been wrong?

And if he is, then how does he go about convincing us that he’s got things right now?

Can Brown lead Labour to election victory?

February 25, 2007

It’s becoming clear that as we get nearer the time when Tony Blair steps down as prime minister and leader of the Labour party that Gordon Brown is probably not the man to take his place, or if he is, then, with him in charge, Labour is unlikely to win the next election.


John Naughton (see blogroll left) has been convinced of this for some time. Here is his latest diary posting on the subject.
 

Brown vs. Cameron: contd.

February 25th, 2007 [link]

Sorry to be a bore about this (er, see here, here and here) but the recent ICM poll for the Guardian confirms my suspicion — that Labour won’t win the next election if they are led by Gordon Brown.

Gordon Brown is failing to persuade the public that he would make a better prime minister than David Cameron, according to a Guardian/ICM poll published today which suggests the Conservatives could win a working majority at the next general election.

Voters give the Tories a clear 13-point lead when asked which party they would back in a likely contest between Mr Brown, Mr Cameron and Sir Menzies Campbell.

The result would give the party 42% of the vote against Labour on 29%, similar to its performance under Michael Foot in 1983. The Liberal Democrats would drop to 17%. The result is the highest that the Conservatives have scored in any ICM poll since July 1992, just after their last general election victory…

The Economist’s Bagehot column has some interesting reflections on this.

Three quite big and important things appear to be going on. The first is that a sort of positive feedback loop has been established in which the long-standing misgivings about Mr Brown within his own party are now being projected back to it by the voters. Senior Labour figures glumly go through the motions of declaring in public their utter confidence in Mr Brown’s prime-ministerial credentials. He is the most successful chancellor of the exchequer since records began, a political heavyweight of towering intellectual stature and soaring moral purpose. It’s a testimonial just close enough to the truth not to provoke sniggers, but they and we know it’s only half the story. What increasingly worries ministers, and those Labour MPs in southern seats whose majorities hang by a thread, is that, unless he can reveal a different side to his personality, dour, stiff, slightly odd Mr Brown will struggle to reach those aspiring middle-class voters whom Mr Blair could still just about deliver in 2005.

The second big thing is that the mood of the electorate seems to be swinging from apathetic boredom and irritation with the government to a feeling that maybe it’s time for a change. If that is right, Mr Brown, for all his admirable qualities, is the last person on earth who can deliver it. However much Mr Brown and his supporters insist that Labour will look very different when he is prime minister, the fact is that Mr Brown is universally recognised as the joint-architect of the government’s successes and failures. It is hard to see what sort of meaningful fresh start Mr Brown can offer.

That was the argument made last week by Frank Field, an independent-minded Labour MP. Mr Field reminded his colleagues that the Tories were able to win a remarkable fourth successive election partly because Margaret Thatcher’s replacement, Mr Major, emerged from nowhere. Even Mrs Thatcher, who backed Mr Major’s leadership bid, had only the haziest idea what he was really like (and was bitterly disappointed when she found out). But it meant that the Tories were able to claim plausibly that by choosing the obscure, untainted Mr Major they had already given the voters the change they demanded.

Mr Field went on to suggest that if Labour was serious about winning it should thank Mr Brown for his outstanding service and move on to the next generation in the shape of David Miliband, the 41-year-old environment secretary who for some time has been uncomfortably cast in the role of next-leader-but-one. That is where Mr Field’s line of reasoning runs out of steam…

Agreed. Miliband is a nice lad (and he’s driven around in a Prius*), but not Premiership material. Labour’s problem is that they have nobody else in Cameron’s generation who has leadership potential. Game over, I suspect.

* John has been driving the hybrid Toyota Prius since 2004. He likes to pretend that anybody else who drives one must have something going for them.

The fight against terrorism..is not a war.

January 25, 2007

On Tuesday night– the 23rd of January- Sir Ken Macdonald, the current director of public prosecutions, addressing the Criminal Bar Association, called on Mr. Blair’s and his government to employ restraint in passing laws to deal with terrorism.  

This, it seems to me, something asking King Lear to be reasonable in the demands he made of his daughters. Let’s not dwell on that too much. 

Sir Ken warned said that a “fear-driven and inappropriate” response to the threat could result in Britain’s abandoning altogether respect for fair trials.

It appears to have escaped Sir Ken’s notice that the government has long ago encouraged the public to lose espect for fair trials by encouraging it think that fair trials they do not work when it comes to dealing with terrorism.  

Giving the impression that he is a man to whom this thought had not occurred, though it must have, he went on to say that:  

…. a culture of legislative restraint in the area of terrorist crime is central to the existence of an efficient and human rights compatible process. We wouldn’t get far in promoting a civilising culture of respect for rights amongst and between citizens if we set about undermining fair trials in the simple pursuit of greater numbers of inevitably less safe convictions. On the contrary, it is obvious that the process of winning convictions ought to be in keeping with a consensual rule of law and not detached from it. Otherwise we sacrifice fundamental values critical to the maintenance of the rule of law – upon which everything else depends.

 
London is not a battlefield. Those innocents who were murdered on July 7 2005 were not victims of war. And the men who killed them were not, as in their vanity they claimed on their ludicrous videos, ’soldiers’. They were deluded, narcissistic inadequates. They were criminals. They were fantasists. We need to be very clear about this. On the streets of London, there is no such thing as a ‘war on terror’, just as there can be no such thing as a ‘war on drugs’.

The fight against terrorism on the streets of Britain is not a war. It is the prevention of crime, the enforcement of our laws and the winning of justice for those damaged by their infringement.

The Guardian’s legal editor, Clare Dyer, observed in her report next day:

(Sir Ken’s)…. comments will be seen as a swipe against government legislation allowing the indefinite detention of suspected terrorists without trial, later held incompatible with human rights by the courts, and the replacement law that permits suspects to be placed under control orders instead of being brought to trial.

Sir Ken referred to the government’s opt-out from the European convention on human rights to pass the detention law – possible under the convention only if the “life of the nation” is threatened. “Everyone here will come to their own conclusion about whether, in the striking Strasbourg phrase, the very ‘life of the nation’ is presently endangered,” he said. “And everyone here will equally understand the risk to our constitution if we decide that it is, when it is not.

The criminal justice response to terrorism must be “proportionate and grounded in due process and the rule of law,” he said. “We must protect ourselves from these atrocious crimes without abandoning our traditions of freedom.” 

There are some among us, myself included, who believe that we have already abandoned too many freedoms and that Sir Ken’s remarks, admirably clear-headed and insightful though they may be, come much, much too late. Will they have any immediate effect on what the government does? I shouldn’t think so.

Sir Ronnie Flanagan & the RUC.

January 24, 2007


John Naughton (see blogroll on the right) spoke for most of us when he posted this observation to his on online diary.

Ulster’s rotten (special) branch

January 23rd, 2007 [link] I’ve been reading the Police Ombudsman’s report into the collusion which existed between (i) loyalist paramilitary thugs and killers and (ii) the Royal Ulster Constabulary over a period of 12 years in the 1980s and 1990s. Even to those of us who always assumed that such collusion existed, it makes shocking reading. As the Guardian puts it:

It is hard to think of a more serious allegation against the police than that they colluded in the murder of citizens of the society that they are sworn to protect. Nevertheless, that is the deadly charge at the heart of the report by the Northern Ireland police ombudsman, Nuala O’Loan, into the protection of informants. The investigation started as an attempt to explain why Raymond McCord Jr was beaten to death in November 1997, a few  months after his arrest in a drugs-running bust. It soon broadened into a wider probe of the relationship between the Royal Ulster Constabulary special branch and local paramilitary UVF police informers, some of whom were alleged to be involved in the McCord killing. These informers have been linked to an array of shocking crimes. Yet, throughout, special branch preferred to protect them rather than hunt them down, and with the full approval of senior supervisors, even going to the length of destroying much of the evidence.

There has been a lot of grave head-shaking in government circles today about Mrs O’Loan’s astonishing report. But this is invariably accompanied by exhortations to “move on” and “leave the past behind”.All of which is understandable, but outrageous. At the very least, any ex-RUC officer connected in any way with the abuses chronicled by Mrs O’Loan and still serving in the (supposedly-reformed) Police Service of Northern Ireland ought to be forcibly retired. From tomorrow.

Now comes the bit which makes you want to pinch yourself. ‘Sir’ Ronnie Flanagan, the RUC Chief Constable on whose watch this stuff happened is now — wait for it! — Head of the Police Inspectorate of England and Wales. That is to say, he is the guy charged with investigating whether mainland police forces are maintaining standards of efficiency, integrity and honesty.

Truly, you could not make this stuff up.

Needless to say, today’s reports show that Sir Ronnie is putting up the not unexpected  robust defense by denying all knowledge of what was going on around him. It’s the classic “I’m the one in charge but the last one to know” move.

At no time did I have any knowledge, or evidence, of officers at any level behaving in the ways that have been described. I would find such conduct to be abhorrent.

The leader of the Social Democratic and Labour party, Mark Durkan, hit the nail on the head about Sir Ronnie  when he said:

Either he was not in control of a dysfunctional organisation, or he knew full well but kept the truth hidden … he should not head up the inspectorate of constabulary.

Quite!!!!

Slaves in all but name?

December 18, 2006

Madeleine Bunting, taking as her starting point a description of how failed Iraqi asylum seeker Nehad (not his real name), who has been in England since 2003,  manages to eke out a meagre and thoroughly debasing existence while living as an illegal worker in Birmingham, has written an instructive comment is free piece for today’s edition of The Guardian. She explains how the half a million irregular migrants, just like Nehad, except possibly a little less articulate, who are presently living in this country have has now come to be seen as an army of cheap labour that helps to feed the booming economy. As far as Bunting is concerned, it’s slavery by another name.  

Yet no politician is prepared to admit that, given the fevered anxieties about immigration in this country. These half a million have become a political no-go area: everyone has a vested interest in pretending they don’t exist. They’ve provided labour for
Britain‘s booming economy, filling the increasing personal-service job sectors of domestic work, cleaning, catering, food processing and hospitality.

In this zombie category of irregulars, you are vulnerable to every thug, every kind of criminality – and yet you can never turn to the police. You get turned away from doctor’s surgeries. Your employer can deduct money from your wages, increase your hours, withhold pay and you can do nothing or he will make threatening requests for a national insurance number. Likewise, your landlord can up the rent and ignore complaints about repairs.

No one has wanted to broach the debate. Refugee organisations are too busy fighting for a fair asylum system, and trade unions, while aware of how employers can exploit irregular migrants and how that has a knock-on effect on other low-paid workers, have held back from an unpopular issue. Into this gap has stepped the Citizens Organising Foundation – representing community and faith groups in London and Birmingham – with plans to launch a campaign, Strangers into Citizens, in the new year, which will aim to open up a space to discuss this subject sensibly. It’s the COF that is hunting out the rare characters like Nehad who have the courage to speak out, and have learned good enough English to tell a story that booming Britain doesn’t want to hear.

Maybe now’s not the time to be apologising, as Mr. Blair recently did,  for the misdeeds of our ancestors when it came to slavery; maybe it’s the time for proving that we do abhor slavery by stamping out this pernicious modern version of it.  

Slaves in all but name?

December 18, 2006

Madeleine Bunting, taking as her starting point a description of how failed Iraqi asylum seeker Nehad (not his real name), who has been in England since 2003,  manages to eke out a meagre and thoroughly debasing existence while living as an illegal worker in Birmingham, has written an instructive comment is free piece for today’s edition of The Guardian. She explains how the half a million irregular migrants, just like Nehad, except possibly a little less articulate, who are presently living in this country have has now come to be seen as an army of cheap labour that helps to feed the booming economy. As far as Bunting is concerned, it’s slavery by another name.  

Yet no politician is prepared to admit that, given the fevered anxieties about immigration in this country. These half a million have become a political no-go area: everyone has a vested interest in pretending they don’t exist. They’ve provided labour for
Britain‘s booming economy, filling the increasing personal-service job sectors of domestic work, cleaning, catering, food processing and hospitality.

In this zombie category of irregulars, you are vulnerable to every thug, every kind of criminality – and yet you can never turn to the police. You get turned away from doctor’s surgeries. Your employer can deduct money from your wages, increase your hours, withhold pay and you can do nothing or he will make threatening requests for a national insurance number. Likewise, your landlord can up the rent and ignore complaints about repairs.

No one has wanted to broach the debate. Refugee organisations are too busy fighting for a fair asylum system, and trade unions, while aware of how employers can exploit irregular migrants and how that has a knock-on effect on other low-paid workers, have held back from an unpopular issue. Into this gap has stepped the Citizens Organising Foundation – representing community and faith groups in London and Birmingham – with plans to launch a campaign, Strangers into Citizens, in the new year, which will aim to open up a space to discuss this subject sensibly. It’s the COF that is hunting out the rare characters like Nehad who have the courage to speak out, and have learned good enough English to tell a story that booming Britain doesn’t want to hear.

Maybe now’s not the time to be apologising, as Mr. Blair recently did,  for the misdeeds of our ancestors when it came to slavery; maybe it’s the time for proving that we do abhor slavery by stamping out this pernicious modern version of it.  

Blair tells it how it is.

September 26, 2006

Although I don’t agree with everything in it, I do think that John Naughton’s (see Blogroll) measured reaction to Tony Blair’s last speech as Prime Minister before Labour Party Conference seems to me to hit just about the right and summed up pretty what many of us who’d heard or read the speech felt.   

September 26th, 2006 [link]

Listening to Tony Blair’s valedictory speech I was struck by two thoughts. The first is how good he was at reminding his party about how and why it won office (and, by implication, warning it not to forget that lesson). The second was that, but for his single, colossal misjudgement about Iraq, he would have gone down as one of the great reforming prime ministers in British history.

There were some really good lines in the speech — for example, his crack about Labour’s “core vote” being the people of Britainrather than its traditional “heartlands”. The observation that the only Labour party tradition he abhorred was “failure”. And his frank admission that some of the things that were done by Thatcherism had to be done if Britain were to become a modern country. Nobody who recalls the chaos of the Wilson/Heath/Callaghan years will dispute that.

That said, Blairism wasn’t the continuation of Thatcherism by other means. Listening to his recital of what his administration has done in terms of renewing the country’s public services, schools, hospitals, etc., it was impossible to believe that a Tory government would have done the same. A few weeks ago I met an American who had been a student here in the 1970s and hadn’t been back to the UK since. He was dumbstruck by how much had changed — for the better. And he was right.So long as it stuck to domestic issues, the speech was terrific.

But the moment it moved on to the ‘war’ against terrorism, it lost its way. Just like its author.

Blair tells it how it is.

September 26, 2006

Although I don’t agree with everything in it, I do think that John Naughton’s (see Blogroll) measured reaction to Tony Blair’s last speech as Prime Minister before Labour Party Conference seems to me to hit just about the right and summed up pretty what many of us who’d heard or read the speech felt.   

September 26th, 2006 [link]

Listening to Tony Blair’s valedictory speech I was struck by two thoughts. The first is how good he was at reminding his party about how and why it won office (and, by implication, warning it not to forget that lesson). The second was that, but for his single, colossal misjudgement about Iraq, he would have gone down as one of the great reforming prime ministers in British history.

There were some really good lines in the speech — for example, his crack about Labour’s “core vote” being the people of Britainrather than its traditional “heartlands”. The observation that the only Labour party tradition he abhorred was “failure”. And his frank admission that some of the things that were done by Thatcherism had to be done if Britain were to become a modern country. Nobody who recalls the chaos of the Wilson/Heath/Callaghan years will dispute that.

That said, Blairism wasn’t the continuation of Thatcherism by other means. Listening to his recital of what his administration has done in terms of renewing the country’s public services, schools, hospitals, etc., it was impossible to believe that a Tory government would have done the same. A few weeks ago I met an American who had been a student here in the 1970s and hadn’t been back to the UK since. He was dumbstruck by how much had changed — for the better. And he was right.So long as it stuck to domestic issues, the speech was terrific.

But the moment it moved on to the ‘war’ against terrorism, it lost its way. Just like its author.

Leave it to the professionals.

September 20, 2006

It is heartening  to see Duncan O’Leary, a researcher at the thinktank Demos, reporting in today’s The Guardian that a London borough of Bexley project which is run by a coalition of professionals rather than managed top-down by the government a government agency is proving to be a successful.

Bexley’s Multi Agency Integrated Services Initiative (Maisi) aims to coordinate the work of children’s services in the local area, creating the kind of “joined-up” services that policy makers dream of. But rather than taking its lead from Whitehall, Maisi is led by a coalition of professionals from local agencies. The project – the brainchild of Bexley’s chief executive, Nick Johnson – was established after a workshop held by the council in 2004. Powered by the enthusiasm of the professionals involved, it has been driving change ever since.

This is the way prove that all those would be managerial types from Whitehall with their targets, measures and bean-counting ways are nothing but so much hot air.